Sunday, 31 August 2014

Dartford parkrun 6 - 'Daddy, I'm like you', #7tea and another personal course best

I'm running out of things to write in these Dartford parkrun blog posts, which I imagine should be a good thing as it shows that things are going pretty well. So I'll just have to write about my run...

moments after the start of dartford parkrun six [photo: david mote]

I started near the front of the pack and for the first time hit the first corner with the leading pack. I stayed in fourth position all the way through the trail section of the course and then moved up into third on the far side of the football pitches.

lime preparing for her volunteering stint on stones corner

Now that the football season has started, the lines have now been marked out on the football pitch section and if matches take place on a Saturday morning it will be a tight squeeze for runners as they reach the path at Ivy Leaf Corner.

coming back over the bridge on lap 1 [photo: gary clements]

So I stayed in third the rest of the way around the first lap and as we passed the start area the three of us were all in a pretty tight pack. However, the eventual first finisher (remember there are no 'winners' at parkrun) put in a surge and created a gap between myself and the second placed runner.

the wandering volunteer

As we arrived at Stones Corner, my daughter was standing next to Mick Jagger wearing my jumper (check out this video), waving her arms around shouting 'Daddy, I'm like you'. I smiled and waved as I circled her and Mick, before putting my head down and continuing with the run (remember it's not a race, even though it might feel like one sometimes).

just about to reach the medieval bridge on lap 2 [photo: gary clements]

During the trail section on lap two I almost tripped over a dog, but stopped just in time. By the time I had reached the top I was neck and neck with the second placed runner and although I may have briefly nudged into second place, I didn't have the legs to stay there for long.

#7tea [photo: 7t]

During the last kilometre, my rival for second place opened up more of a gap which by the end was 11 seconds. However all was not lost as I had run (yet) another course best time. This week I knocked four seconds of last week's time and came in just two seconds slower than my overall 5k personal best.

100 metre sprints with a couple of 'lying flat on her face until i shout go' breaks [photo: 7t]

I had a quick breather before picking up my scanner and hi-vis jacket and getting to work at scanning the barcodes of the other runners as they streamed through the finish line. Everything seemed to go really well and there were fewer people without barcodes, so the message is getting through. Another great thing today was that Richey (ED) finally got to run at the event.

hanging out at dartford harriers ac [photo: 7t]

We hung out at the Dartford Harriers clubhouse for a while after and then had lunch in 'Cafe in the Park' before moving onto the playground and then the shopping centre for some crafts and dancing lessons - but not for me, I'm quite happy with my current 'Dad dancing' skillz!

Harrow Lodge Junior parkrun (#22)

For Matilda's second junior parkrun, we headed over to Harrow Lodge Park in Hornchurch for Harrow Lodge Junior parkrun. We parked in the same free car park that I had used over a year ago at the Harrow Lodge parkrun inaugural event. The junior event starts and finishes in almost the same spot as the 5k event.

at the start line waiting to warm up [photo: 7t]

Something to watch out for at junior parkruns is the start time because they do vary between venues. Last week's visit to Mile End Junior parkrun had a start time of 9.30am while Harrow Lodge Juniors starts at 9am, while Bushy Juniors (currently a monthly event) has an 11am start. We almost got caught out and we arrived just in the nick of time at 8.51am.

and they're off [photo: dani]

There are toilets but they are on the far side of the park in the 'sportcentre' building. It really is a bit of a trot so if you need to venture over there you would possibly have to give yourself a good 30 minute window to get there and back.

parkrunning together [photo: dani]

I had already decided to run with Matilda at this venue, so I made a beeline for the gaggle of volunteers to check if they needed a tail runner for the event and it just so happened that they did, so I grabbed my volunteering jacket and got ready to take on the role for the first time.

at the far end of the course [photo: 7t]

The reason I had decided to run with Matilda was that the course here is one single 2km loop and it goes to the far end of the park and through some less landscaped areas. I couldn't face standing at the finish hoping that she hadn't got lost en-route.

the final stretch [photo: dani]

So once all of the volunteers were in place, there was a little warm up session and then the run was started. The course is mostly run on grass and takes runners along the same first stretch as it does at the full 5k event. The runners swing a right when they reach the tennis courts and playgrounds at the far end and then enter the more wildlifey part of the park.

about to enter the finish funnel [photo: dani]

After twisting around a few different grassy paths, they emerge onto a tarmac path which takes them along the edge of the lake (don't worry, there is a fence). This path leads across to a point where the runners rejoin the opening stretch and head back towards the start/finish area. As usual, the volunteers were fab and offered lots of encouragement around the course.

scanning time [photo: dani]

It's not a pancake flat course and when the winter months come along it'll probably be a little muddy in places but it is a fab little course in a really great park. Matilda had brought along one of her new ERS barcode tags and I'm pleased to say that it scanned perfectly. We had attached it to a necklace before we left home so she couldn't lose it.

all that parkrunning makes for a tired girl [photo: 7t]

Once the junior run had finished I headed off to attempt a freedom run of the full 5k course, and although I could remember most of it, the wildlifey section through me a little and I ran up and down a few wrong paths before getting back on track. The official results were online a few hours later and although she hadn't improved on her time from last week, she had enjoyed herself and logged her second junior parkrun at her second venue.

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Folkestone parkrun (freedom run)

The parkrun at Folkestone started a few weeks after Dartford parkrun and as I'm one of the core volunteers at Dartford, I hadn't been able to get down to try out their course on a Saturday morning. However, on Friday 29 August 2014 I was passing through Folkestone and decided to have a cheeky freedom run around the course.

leas cliff hall cafe

As it was a freedom run there were no marshals or signage to guide me so I had to rely entirely on the course description and the official course map. So the previous evening I sat down and studied the course page in detail. By the time I went to bed, I was happy that I had committed the course to memory.

the main path at the top of the cliff

Folkestone parkrun takes place on tarmac paths along the top of the Leas Cliffs with the meeting point, toilets and start/finish area all neatly contained right next to the Leas Hall Cafe. This in turn is right next to the Leas Cliff Hall, which is a magnificent structure built into the side of the cliff face and venue for gigs and shows - it's worth going down to the beach and looking back up to see it in all its glory.

one of the viewpoints

If you travel by car you will have to pay to park. If you're looking for the cheapest option you could park for up to two hours at a cost of £1 but this will involve parking right at the bottom of the cliffs and walking/running right up to the top. The closest parking spaces are on the road right next to the start/finish with a maximum stay of three hours and (I think) £1 per hour.


The run itself starts just to the West of the cafe and consists of two out-and-back sections with one of them repeated twice. Anyone keen to glance across the road, may spot the statue of William Harvey, who was born in the town (in 1578) and is famous for being the 'discoverer of the circulation of the blood'.

the lower path

Runners head off along the top of the cliffs in a westerly direction, past the bandstand and then on towards the Grand Hotel. While running in this direction the course has a slight incline. As I was freedom running I had roughly memorised the turnaround point and once I reached it I turned around and followed the winding lower path back towards the bandstand.

leas cliff lift

The lower path is narrower and not as well kept as the main path at the top and it meanders around just a few metres below the main cliff top path. It rejoins the main path at the bandstand and the runners now head back past the cafe - this completes the first out and back section. The second out and back section sees the runners head east from the cafe towards the war memorial arch at the far end of the cliff top.

war memorial arch

Just before reaching the arch, the runners pass the Leas Cliffs Lift which is a funicular railway that transports its passengers up and down the cliff. It originally opened in 1885 and is a grade 2 listed structure. The runners then head back towards the cafe to complete the second out and back. The final out and back is a carbon copy of the first one, with the finish being back at the cafe. 

the official course map (incorrect) - the turnaround point on the left is about 125 metres further to the left (west)

Here comes the part where I reached the finish line but had only run 4.5km - I definitely ran the course as shown on the official course page. I have compared my gps data map to the official map and course description and I can't work out exactly where I went wrong.

Update: I spoke to the guys at Folkestone parkrun and it turns out that the turnaround point is quite a bit further along the path than the official map currently (august 2014) shows. They encountered the same problem during their trial run. I feel a little better knowing that I did read the map and description properly.

my gps route on the strava map

As I had only completed 4.5km of the intended 5km course, I decided to keep on running up to the war memorial arch and back again until I had completed the full 5km. This explains the strange placing of my finish point on my strava map. Even though I didn't run the exact course I have still logged it as a freedom run because I followed the official advice.

the view from the viewing deck on top of the Leas Cliff Hall

That aside, the views out to sea and of the beach are amazing. The Leas Cliff Coastal Park is the area between the parkrun course and the beach and it is a fascinating area to explore post-run. Its story began back in 1784 when a landslip created a new strip of land between the beach and the cliff side. The area became a coastal park from 2000 when the first phase of its regeneration had been completed.

looking back towards the course from the beach

So that was my freedom run done. I will eventually make it back here to run at an official event, but with my commitments at Dartford parkrun it may be quite some time before I make it back. It's definitely worth a visit. Oh and watch out for the wind!

Friday, 29 August 2014

Canterbury Half Marathon 2014

The Canterbury Half Marathon is organised by Nice Work in support of Pilgrims Hospices and is supported by the Canterbury Forest of Blean Rotary Club. It is run on undulating, and at some points hilly, country lanes just to the south of Canterbury town centre, in Kent. The running surface is 100% tarmac so road shoes (I wore a pair of my NB1080v3) were the order of the day.

Merton Farm [photo:7t]

This event took place on the August Bank Holiday Monday. I had made a note about it in my race calendar a number of months in advance of the event, but I didn't enter it until about a week beforehand. When I finally entered, I did so through the runbritain website and paid the affiliated fee of £16. Unaffiliated runners had to pay an extra £2.

The event hq was clearly signposted from the main road in the town centre and free car parking was available on an open grass field within the extensive grounds of Merton Farm. The toilets were provided in the form of portaloos - they were mostly single occupancy units but the addition of a male urinal-type unit which could accommodate about six men at a time was a welcome addition.

queue for the portaloos [photo:7t]

Race HQ contained the number and timing chip collection desk, the late entries desk, an official race t-shirt retail area, and a massage area. These were all under gazebo-style covering right next to the start/finish, which was handy because it was absolutely pouring down!

The race start time was 10am, which was a good time for me - it meant that I didn't have to get up too early to make it there in time. As I understand it, there was a 2 mile fun run and also a children’s race. They were both due to take place once the half-marathoners had set off.

#teamslgr kit on and out into the rain [photo:dani]

The Half Marathon itself got under way on time and despite starting a little too far back, I managed to head out at a reasonable pace. In order to filter all of the runners over the timing mats, the start line was quite narrow, so it took a little longer than I would have hoped to reach and filter through the start line.

The good news is that as it was chip timed each runners’ individual time was not actually affected by this - it’s just a little disheartening watching the runners ahead of you charge off into the distance while you are still standing still. Anyway, that’s how these things work and the fact that I've mentioned it shouldn't be taken as a complaint.

at race hq [photo:7t]

The course is best described as a lollipop (although not quite in the traditional shape). The stick part is run at the beginning and the end of the race with a big loop (the sweet part) run during the middle miles. It’s hard to remember every detail of the course so I’ll run through it the best I can remember.

The first kilometre was slightly downhill with the following 3 kilometres taking the runners on a gradual incline. There was then a 500 metre or so downhill section that got very steep at one point - most of this part allowed an increase of pace, but the steepest point saw the brakes come on a little as the marshals were warning of slippery patches.

the start area [photo:7t]

The course flattened slightly before returning to a downhill where the runners entered the village of Petham. It’s only a small place but it was really great to see the locals out on the street in the rain supporting the runners - I gave waves and thumbs up as I passed to show that their support was appreciated.

If I remember rightly there were 4 opportunities to pick up some water on the course, and with the weather being cool and raining, they was more than sufficient. In fact, I only took water at two water stations and even then I didn't actually drink that much during the race. There were a few people out on the course supplying unofficial jelly babies or something similar but as I couldn't be sure if they were suitable for vegetarians, I just ran straight past.

the stick part of the course [from the official webpage]

At around 9.5 kilometres into the race, the route passed through the village of Waltham before heading out deeper into the countryside during the rest of the loop. On the course not all of the roads were closed but they were extremely quiet. The drivers that I encountered were all very respectful of the runners and most had pulled to the side of the road to allow space for us to pass.

I hadn’t set myself a specific time goal for this race because I had read that it was a tough course and approached it with a ‘see how it goes’ mind set. However, as I approached the halfway point, I worked out that I was on target for a possible sub-1.30 finish time - something that I hadn't even considered when reading about how hard some of the hills were.

the lollipop part [from the official webpage]

One of the most memorable parts of the race came around the halfway point. The course reached its highest point and the views from here were breathtaking, and that is coming from someone that had glasses covered in raindrops on a day when the cloud cover was low and thick. On a clear, sunny day this could be one of the nicest views from any race I have done so far.

The descent from the halfway point came in the form of a long, fast downhill section. It lasted for around a kilometre and when I glanced down at my Garmin I saw that I was flying along at 3.20 per kilometre pace (5.22 minutes per mile). I didn't glance for too long as I didn't want to risk slipping on the wet surface.

the hill profile

After this, I started to think about the uphill sections that were to come. And before I knew it, I had completed the loop and was heading back through Petham - this time it was uphill, and much steeper than I had remembered as I had descended into the village a short while earlier.

The road flattened out for a brief stretch and then began the hill that I had read so much about in previous years’ online reviews. I slowed down, kept my effort level the same and forgot about pace. As I reached the steepest point I was barely moving faster that walking pace, but I was firm in my intent to maintain a running motion and not to be reduced to a walk.

finish area [photo:dani]

In the end, it wasn't as bad as I had prepared myself for and I then hit the 3 kilometre long section that had been slightly uphill on the way out. Now being slightly downhill, and with only 4kms left to go, I naturally opened up my stride and began running a series of sub 4 minute kilometres - It was an amazing feeling and I loved this part of the course!

Then as my Garmin beeped to notify me that I had reached 20 kilometres, the final steady incline started. Some sections felt steeper on the way back than they had at the beginning of the race but I soon saw the 13 mile marker, and then the finish line appeared. I crossed it, collected my participation medal and wandered over to race HQ to find some water.

all done [photo:dani]

In addition to the water, I was pleased to see a few sweet treats so I tucked in before chatting to some fellow runners and then heading back over to the car to change out of my dripping wet kit. About an hour later I had worked my way through a couple of bouts of back seat cramping (don't ask) and finally managed to get into something dry and headed off.

The official results were up online later that day. I completed the course in 1:28.49 - only five seconds off my personal best which I set at the Paddock Wood Half-Marathon earlier in the year. There were 446 runners listed in the results and I was the 38th runner to cross the finish line (35th fastest if you go by the chip times), meaning that I finished well within the top 10% (8.5%).

medal [photo:7t]

I was pleased with my performance but at the same time I'm slightly disappointed that I hadn't realised how close to setting a new personal best I was going to be and in retrospect could have pushed a little harder during some parts of the course. However, given that it was a undulating/hilly course, I think that overall it will still go down as my best Half-Marathon performance to date.

The participation medal was nice and I really liked that it was a bespoke offering rather than one of those generic ones you get at a lot of races. I thoroughly enjoyed the race and would definitely run it again. I would just request a nice clear day so I can really enjoy that view at the halfway point!
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